Two Hearts, Beating in Prime Time
Watch out, America: Connie Chung and Maury Povich are commanding the airwaves.
Yes, there’s still room for Dan and Peter and Tom and Ted, as well as Geraldo and maybe even those Reporters. But Chung and Povich are the Married Media Couple of the Moment, and soon at least one of them will come beaming into the nation’s living rooms seven days a week. Chung, who last month left NBC News for CBS and a three-year contract for close to $6 million, will slide into the Sunday network anchor slot, take the helm at the wobbly magazine-style show West 57th and, if promises hold, occasionally pinch-hit for Rather when Dan is away. Povich, the wry host of Fox TV’s A Current Affair, presides over the controversial tabloid-TV show’s galloping success and late last year also started anchoring the 7 P.M. news at the Fox station in New York.
In the cutthroat world of TV news, it would seem hard for a husband and wife to be that ambitious and still be gracious (they are), keep the marriage on an even keel (they do) and get down to serious nuzzling at every opportunity (and how). What makes the triumph that much sweeter is that for the first time in the decade since Chung and Povich got together, their careers are soaring in sync. According to a USA Today poll, Connie is the newsperson Americans would most like to have over for dinner. Week in and week out, Povich’s audience swells; these days when he tramps the sidewalks of New York, cabbies and hard hats yell out admiringly, “Hey, Maury!”
Although they might see it differently, such success has required what others would call sacrifice. Ever since Chung and Povich started dating in 1978, they have willingly cut their private life to fit their professional goals. For seven years they carried on a commuter courtship when their work held them hostage in different cities. At one point she was in L.A., he in Philadelphia. Though they were married in 1984, they did not move in with each other until 1986. The subject of children has yet to be finally resolved. Still, whatever compromises they’ve made with normality, at least now they’re together, after all the ups and downs.
Most of the ups have been Chung’s. “Connie is a shooting star, never off course,” says Povich. “Her idea of failure is that ABC never made a serious offer.” In the throes of the frenetic finale of last month’s network tug-of-war for her services (see story, page 124), Chung, 42, was anything but a model of composure off-camera. Reports Povich: “She smoked every cigarette I had. She was even into butts.” Says Chung: “Maury was there holding my hand at every step. When it comes to career decisions, I throw everything on his shoulders and say, ‘Help me get through this.’ ”
At this point in his career, Povich, 50, is a confident helpmate. His nose-thumbing Current Affair may look like a cross between 60 Minutes and the National Enquirer, but it is a syndicated ratings blockbuster now seen by 7.2 million people spread across 146 cities. His topics range from sensational (the infamous party video in which preppy murderer Robert Chambers was seen wringing a doll’s neck) to the merely wacky (abetting the escape of a pooch condemned to doggy death row). Since its start-up two years ago, A Current Affair has been both praised and pilloried. “I have as much fun defending the show as I have doing it,” says Povich. “I’m only sad that critics take it so seriously. It’s just a little pisher half hour.”
Which is a typically Maury bit of humor. In old photos of the Povich family, he is the little boy with the mischievous smirk. The second of three children, Maury is the son of Shirley Povich, the Washington Post’s sports editor emeritus. “I was sort of a Peck’s bad boy,” he says. At one point he was booted out of the University of Pennsylvania for failing grades and remembers the drive home with Dad as “the longest car ride I’ve ever had. He was tough. His byword was, ‘You must have a good sense of values.’ ” When the prodigal finally did graduate from Penn—at 23—he married his college sweetheart, Phyllis Minkoff, with whom he had two daughters, Susan, now 25, and Amy, 22.
Chung, the youngest of 10 children, was the only one born in America. Five of her siblings died in infancy before her parents left their home in China. Her father, an intelligence officer under Chiang Kai-shek, moved the family to Washington, D.C., in 1946, and after the Communist victory in China, he stayed on in the U.S. to become a financial manager. “We were a big, wonderful family,” says Chung, who remembers a childhood of parties and picnics and keeping her paper-doll cutouts between the pages of LIFE magazines. Household chores were dispensed to the girls along with double doses of the work ethic. “I was the quiet one,” she says. “My sisters were always talking, so they were shocked when I got into this business.”
Chung and Povich met in 1969 when he was the hugely popular host of Panorama, a midday talk show in Washington, D.C. She was a copygirl, fresh from the University of Maryland. “I would say, ‘Oh, Mr. Povich, how do you write so fast and so well?’ ” says Connie. “Maury says that he doesn’t remember me well, which I find sooooo insulting.” In 1971 CBS saw something Povich didn’t and hired her when she was 25. She immediately became a general assignment political reporter. She does not deny that being Asian and a woman gave her an edge. Insensitive questions about her rise were deflected with humor. Years ago, when a CBS News executive asked her how a young female Chinese-American reporter had advanced so far, she pointed to Bill Small (then the news division’s senior VP) and announced, “Bill likes the way I do his shirts.”
Povich, already a local star, was eager for bigger things. “I began wondering whether I would just play Washington or if I could take this act out of town,” he says. “I had this need to try it somewhere else.” Hired in 1976 by an NBC affiliate in Chicago, he moved his family there, then quit within months following a bitter contract dispute. He landed next at the CBS affiliate in L.A., where Chung was then anchoring three different newscasts. The station’s low ratings failed to improve, and Povich was fired after four months. “I was shattered to the core,” he says. “I began wondering whether I should be selling shoes.”
Simultaneously, his marriage had foundered. “I had been consumed by my career,” he says, “and made the tragic error of putting that priority ahead of my family.” Next, Povich took a job with ABC in San Francisco and found solace with his only friend on the Coast. “Connie nurtured me,” he says, “and kept telling me that I should not question my talent.”
Easy for her to say. At the time, Chung was the toast of Los Angeles. “She was the most popular woman on television,” says Maury, and her social life reflected that. “There were other men in my life [including, briefly, Warren Beatty], but I never came close to being married,” says Chung. “I truly knew from the beginning that Maury was the one, but I just didn’t have it in me to commit myself. I was having a grand old time.” Even so, they remained close.
In 1983 Chung moved to New York to anchor NBC’s early-bird newscast. Povich had bounced from San Francisco to Philadelphia and then back to Washington, where he resumed hosting Panorama and co-anchored the weekend news. “The more stable I felt,” he says, “the more I thought about Connie and tying the knot.” Chung said yes, but only after she had found the perfect dress. In late 1984 a rabbi married them in her New York apartment.
For more than a year thereafter, the newlyweds rarely saw each more than once a week. Chung would anchor NBC’s Saturday night newscast, fly to Washington and hurry back Sunday late afternoon to get up at 3 A.M. to do NBC’s News at sunrise. Had Rupert Murdoch not handpicked Povich for A Current Affair, the pair might still be stuck at separate addresses. The show has brought Maury not only money—his salary is in the high six figures—-but national exposure as well. And the couple’s doorman has finally stopped calling him Mr. Chung.
The familiarity that comes from living under the same roof has not bred contempt. “Connie has given me a long leash,” says Maury. “I don’t feel any of the constraints of the traditional marriage.” That said, his excesses are modest. Which is not to say there haven’t been adjustments. “Sometimes we argue,” says Povich, “because I’ve been known to tip a few with the boys and come home late. But I’ve toned down my act.”
Under her husband’s influence, Connie has apparently jazzed hers up. “He’s the excitement, the lightning, the recreation director,” she says. “I’m so tight and under control. I never act on impulse. He’s the one who gets me out of my strait-jacket.” Povich agrees, but says he still has to orchestrate most of the fun, including trips, all by himself. “She has not planned one vacation in our lives,” he says. “She’s terrible at recess.”
On-camera, Povich sometimes comes across as a bit of a cutup, while Connie is always cool and correct. And that carries over into the marriage. Take, for example, the delicate subject of money. Says Maury: “Connie has always made a lot more money. There have been times when I would have pangs about it, but whenever they surfaced, I would just put a stake in ’em. Coming to New York helped because I’ve had so much fun with A Current Affair.” He goes on: “Connie took a 50 percent pay cut when she came east from Los Angeles…”
At this, the startled Chung clamps her hand over Povich’s mouth. “Honey, I’ve never confirmed that!” she says.
“Okay,” says Maury, managing to unmuzzle himself, “the rumored pay cut. I think it shows that you’re not just some suuuperficial anchorperson, whose only interest is money. I mean, yooou never got upset when you saw that Barbara Walters was getting…”
Chung lunges to apply the muzzle once more. “Honey, honey, nooooooo,” she squeals.
In private, Connie doesn’t hesitate to let down her hair. “We’re old rock and rollers,” says Povich. “She’ll put on MTV and bounce around. We love movies. She cries at everything. Honey, didn’t you cry at A Fish Called Wanda?”
If she is, as she puts it, the “sentimental slob,” he is merely the slob. “For years I tried to get him to be neater because I’d have to follow him around picking up behind him,” says Connie. “I’ve really improved,” he says sheepishly, “but I still leave my underwear on the floor.”
That is one vice Chung will never share; beautiful clothes are her weakness. “I go into a dressing room and don’t come up for hours,” she says. A small bedroom in their spacious six-room West Side apartment does duty as a walk-in closet in which she stores her clothes, each hanger lovingly draped in a plastic cover. Says Povich: “Connie only shops on two occasions, when she’s happy and when she’s depressed.”
On a typical evening Chung and Povich are home by 9 P.M., sharing Chinese food that they order in. Twice a week a neighbor who is a cook prepares meals for the two of them, which Connie pops in the microwave. “After dinner,” says Chung, “Maury is a bed potato. He lies there with his books and his television clicker.” While he zaps from station to station, she putters around the apartment. “I can hear her,” he says “shuffling the linens.”
The couple’s weekends are spent at their 1840 manor house, set on three bosky acres in New Jersey. For the past year, while Chung worked the Saturday shift at NBC, Povich headed for the country early, so he could golf, shop for groceries and whip up a special dinner in time for her arrival at 8:30 P.M.
He and Chung remain affectionate as newlyweds—touching, squeezing and teasing. They’ve considered children, but with no resolution. “I’d love to have a child with Connie,” says Povich, “but if she doesn’t want to, I don’t want to. She is a wonderful mother to my daughters, but I don’t think she fully recognizes her maternal qualities.” Says Chung: “If I were a man, I would say yes, but I don’t know how women do it all. I have a hard enough time getting my work done and keeping the house in order. All I’m really good at is working.”
As he does so often, Povich begs to differ. “Oh, honey,” he says. “That’s not true. You’re a good lover.”
With that unexpected news leak, Connie Chung, cool, collected and every inch the imperturbable anchorwoman, bubbles over with free-spirited laughter.